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How to Use Coffee Liqueur in Cocktails; Part 1

Along with a couple of the Rocky films, Phil Collins and the ubiquitous mullet, the Espresso Martini – the luscious coffee-laced drink from the late and great Dick Bradsell – is probably the greatest export that the vodka drinking culture of the 1980s gave to the rest of the world.

An awesome drink with an amazing backstory that involves a certain model wanting to both wake up and get fucked up at a trendy venue in 1980s London, the creation of the Espresso Martini was a timely reminder of how to put coffee in drinks without it being tacky, crappy or kitsch.

It paved the way for it to be acceptable for espresso machines to be readily available in bars, and gave us one of the earliest insights into what can be done with fresh and quality ingredients.

However, as popular as the drink became – and as many ‘coffee-tini’ drinks it helped create in the years following – it would take another 30 years or so until the idea of coffee in drinks would make appear in the international cocktail and spirit circles.

Fast forward to 2018 and we see a reemergence of the trend to use coffee in drinks, either in the non alcoholic form of cold brew or espresso, or through the more familiar method of coffee liqueur.

With regards to the latter, there are now a wide range of brands available, from the tried and tested Cafe Lolitathrough to Mr. Blacks and Cross Brew from Australia and Scotland respectively, both of which highlight the care and craft that’s going into a category of liqueur that is currently all the rage.

The great thing about this specific trend is that it’s shown the need for high quality liqueurs, a term that once may have been used an oxymoron in the days when the Espresso Martini ruled supreme during the latter years of the 20th century.

However, what if you don’t have the space for a coffee machine? What if the finances don’t permit for you to have one and keep it cleaned and well maintained? Or worse; what people come to your establishment and ask for coffee, but it turns out that you’re actually a bar that serves alcohol?

Other forms of coffee flavors often employ infusions direct into a spirit or another modifier – like vermouth – or sometimes in the form of bitters. However, if you’re anything like me, which lets face it you probably aren’t because you’re way more creative and outgoing, you may find the idea of spending time on infusions and fancy homemade syrups tedious and wonder about the consistency of batch to batch.

It’s scenarios like this where the knowledge and power of how to use coffee liqueur in mixed drinks becomes valuable. Thing is, despite the range and variety on the market with regards to coffee liqueurs, turns out there aren’t as many coffee-forward cocktails as one may think.

Once you take out the Blackand White Russiansfrom the equation, there isn’t much in out there in terms of old or new cocktails that call for coffee liqueur as a primary modifier.

One of the best examples, however, comes in the way of The Revolver, a coffee-laced bourbon Old Fashioned variation that originated in San Francisco.

An excellent example of a drink that exists within the realms of a contemporary classic and one that is extremely simple to construct yet complex and delicious, the Revolver often gets overlooked primarily because of its straight-forward nature.


Add all ingredients to a rocks glass. Add a single large ice cube, stir a couple of times and garnish with an orange twist.

Joe Santer, Bourbon & Branch, San Francisco, 2003

NB – A damn fine drink that deserves more plaudits, and a perfect example of a slightly more obscure contemporary classic for the West Coast of the US.

However, whist the above drink can be seen as semi-revolutionary, coffee liqueur in drinks goes back further than the 1980s, and even further back than the Black and White Russian family of drinks.

The Coffee House cocktail, which is essentially an adaption of an old recipe from the 1920s, uses Rye in lieu of bourbon, and is finished with a lemon peel instead.

The Coffee House Cocktail

Add all ingredients to a rocks glass. Add a single large ice cube, stir a couple of times and garnish with an lemon twist.

Recipe adapted from The Saloon in the Home, or a Garland of Rum Blossoms, Ridgely Hunt & George s. Chapel, 1930

NB – If, like me, you don’t mind taking a degree of liberty when it comes to adapting old drinks for the modern day pallet – assuming you don’t stray to far away from the original recipe and leave most of it intact – then maybe you could consider subbing the rye for scotch and keep the lemon peel and you have the Black Watch (the original recipe calls for soda; you can just go ahead and pour into a glass and drink that separately)Sub the scotch for Tequila and swap out the orange for chocolate bitters and you have an adaption of a weird 70s drink called the Brave Bull (sub some of the tequila for a little or a lot of Mezcal at your discretion for what sounds like a totally baller drink). Then there’s the Black andWhite Russians which you already know about. It’s upto you if you want add cola for the former, and its up to what ratios you do; for the Black Russian, I would look closer at a 2:1 ratio in favour of the vodka.

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